“Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun.”
My staff and I have been working together for the past year to redesign elementary education. This task is by no means easy and is, in fact, quite overwhelming. Each day we are trusted to provide the best education possible to each one of our 508 students. This responsibility can make it difficult to want to take a risk out of fear of failing these children about whom we care so deeply. But, my staff does not back down from a challenge even though we may feel a little uncomfortable or unsure along the way.
We are on a journey to redesign, rethink and restructure education as we know it. As part of our journey we created an educational experience for our students called J.W. YOUniversity. This experience occurs for an hour once a week for 6 weeks. We surveyed our students to determine their interests and created 35 courses for them that aligned to four pathways: Global and Community Partnerships; The Arts; STEM; and Health and Wellness. Then teachers created a short commercial for their course. Students watched the commercials and selected their top three courses. We placed each student in a course of their choice that they would experience for a 6-week session.
The result was more amazing than we ever could have expected. Each week during our YOUniversity time students in grades K-5 are working in mixed grade level groups learning about things they are interested in. Engagement is high. Student misbehavior is nonexistent. The classrooms are noisy with productivity. And, when we dismiss students back to their classrooms, they don’t walk in silent single file lines. Instead, they are simply told to head back to their homerooms… this is when the magic happens. Students happily meet up with their friends and there is a buzz of excitement as they share what they learned and find out what their friends learned. Thursday, as our students were heading back to class one of them said, “I am going to blog about this!” And, in that moment, I felt like we’d arrived. I felt like we had achieved the authenticity we’d be looking for. But, that thought was fleeting. My excitement turned to thoughts of “what’s next” and “why are these experiences limited to an hour once a week”. Just when I thought we’d arrived, I realized that we’d just begun.
J.W. YOUniversity isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. As my staff, students and I continue on our journey we must ask ourselves tough questions:
Where do we go from here?
How do we make school a place where kids come to work on things they’re passionate about and deeply interested in?
How do we do this and still ensure that we’re providing them with the rich literacy and math experiences that they need to continue to grow and meet grade level expectations?
When we provide these enriching opportunities are we “giving up” academics or are we “redesigning” academics?
What’s next for us?
We are on the edge and we need to continue to leap.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.